Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are running a campaign called #SmearForSmear which aims to draw attention to the importance of women 25 and over routinely booking and attending smears to prevent cervical cancer. According to the Office of National Statistics cervical cancer is the most common cancer for women aged 35. Research has shown that a smear test can prevent 75% of cervical cancer cases. But according to the BBC, two thirds of women are too embarrassed to go and have their smear test.
Perhaps there isn’t enough emphasis on education surrounding this hugely important health check when only one third of women turn up for their smear test. It certainly feels like the importance of this issue has got lost somewhere and that women may believe they’re unlikely to get cervical cancer and at such a young age. With that in mind, it’s understandable that women would just push it to the backs of their minds for a few years, maybe many years.
Talking from personal experience I want to stress how crucial it is that you book and turn up for your smear test. Yes, just the thought of it sends shivers down our spines and makes our faces heat up but lets be real here, a smear test takes 5 minutes and can save your life. Whilst it may seem embarrassing it will be far more embarrassing and upsetting to find you have cervical cancer and have to keep going back for more extensive tests and treatment.
I went for my first smear test in 2016 when I was 25. My GP, with clearly an excellent automated service, sent me a letter to invite me for a screening. I put it off for a few months because I work in East Berkshire and my GP is in South Oxfordshire, therefore finding the time was a little bit difficult – tut tut, excuses excuses. Alas, I went! My nurse was lovely and comforting and clearly understands the embarrassment of these screenings. She did it as fast as she could (whilst still be gentle!). The actual swab was done and over in less than 5 minutes – knickers back on, a promise that your results will appear in the post within six weeks and you’re out of there!
So about 4 weeks later I received my results. Unfortunately the screening had picked up abnormal cells. I was informed that as a matter of procedure I will need to go for a Colposcopy at the hospital. Whilst it may seem embarrassing to go to your initial appointment, going to a hospital and having 4 people (including 1 male) poking around AND a screen showing your insides was a little step up. But I have to say the staff were so so lovely and just talked to me about my tattoos and normal stuff throughout. I waited another 2 weeks for the results. The colposcopy showed that I had severely abnormal cells on the surface of my cervix (known as CIN 3). I didn’t know what this meant off the bat but the hospital had included a leaflet for me. I discovered that if left untreated, these abnormal cells may become cancer and spread to nearby normal tissue. I’ll admit that this was when I started to freak out a bit. However, I was informed there are several types of treatment for removing these cells including; cryotherapy, laser therapy, large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ), loop electrosurgical procedure (LEEP), or cone biopsy. I was booked to have the lletz procedure in hospital under general anaesthetic in December 2016. By this point I wasn’t at all embarrassed because I had accepted what was going on and I knew that I would be asleep for the procedure anyway.
I was booked in as one of twelve other people having a similar procedure that day and was told to arrive at the hospital for 7.30am, but that my procedure could happen anytime before 5pm in the afternoon. Thankfully, someone was on my side that day because I ended up being bumped up the list from sixth and was the first to undergo the procedure. I don’t remember how long the procedure took but it must have been less than hour. When I woke up I felt space out and half remember chatting nonsense to the nurse checking on me before being wheeled back to the ward. I probably only rested for an hour or so and then come back to life. I asked to have my intravenous cannula removed and said I wanted to go home. I was written off work for a week which I didn’t know was going to happen! I had only told work I was out for the count for two days. My employer was amazing and told me not to worry and rest up. Because of how close it was to Christmas I ended up not going back to work until the New Year. Result really!
After I had recovered I was told I would need to go back to my nurse to have a check-up smear in six months time. At this point I reached out to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust for some support, as I was worried that I might end up in this position again a few years down the line. They were incredibly caring and supportive and they got back to me really quickly. They reassured me the the Lletz procedure usually works and prevents further cell abnormalities. My six month check-up showed I was clear of abnormal cells and I was told that I could go back to the three-yearly smear test.
So, that was a long story and thank you for sticking with it. I guess I’m hoping that by sharing my somewhat embarrassing story I can give other women the confidence to book and attend their smear tests. Maybe what I shared sounds a bit scary? But please remember, had I not gone and got checked out at 25 I could have ended up with cervical cancer seeing as I was already showing high grade cell abnormality. Please remember that it only takes 5 minutes to have your initial smear. The nurse will have carried the test out a million times before and is probably blind to vaginas by now. What’s important to remember is that by going for this small, routine check-up you really could be preventing something far, far worse for yourself. Half the worlds population are women, so you are not a lone. Talk to your partner, a friend, a family member, a nurse, someone from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, anybody. Just don’t just don’t ignore it altogether.
Thank you Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust for the individual support you gave me and for all the work you are doing to educate people and to ultimately prevent women getting cervical cancer. Thank you also to my amazingly supportive boyfriend for holding my hand all through it.
I will be taking part in the #SmearForSmear campaign when I get home this evening. I will post a picture on my Instagram!
Please leave a comment if you want to discuss anything further. I am more than happy to talk about my experience and support anyone who might be having a hard time. Remember, the more we talk about these issues, the less embarrassment there is.